Pulaski County Health Department Concerned About Lack of Funds, Access to Financial Information

The Pulaski County Health Department will be able to continue operating as usual, in spite of a lack of funds. That’s the assurance county council members gave to Health Department staff last week.

Office Manager Terri Hansen told council members the department started the year with only $53,000, due to unusually low tax draws last year. “Last year in June, we only got $23,000, where the year before, we had like $50,000,” she explained. “We are already $16,300 in the hole, as of today. I know the June tax draw is coming, but we are not aware of how much it is, but we know it won’t be enough to run us to the end of the year.” She said the Health Department is covering significant portions of its salaries with grant funds, money that should be used on programs to help combat smoking, opioid abuse, and childhood obesity.

Making matters worse, Health Department Bookkeeper Celinda Briney said she only has direct access to the department’s projected budget, not its actual cash balance. That means she has no way of knowing when the budget is in the red.

Briney added that she’s had some trouble getting that information from Auditor Laura Wheeler. “I’m trying to just understand why, when we do call and ask for something, we can’t get it or we’re not told,” she said. “And I have to say, Terri and I did ask, and this is very upsetting to me because I go to work every day. I do my job. And the question was, ‘Is this going to affect our pay?’ and we get laughed at by Laura.”

There seemed to be some confusion between Wheeler, Hansen, and Briney about what information the Health Department wanted. “If you’re looking for your cash money, you’re going to have to ask for hard-copy reports, that’s all,” Wheeler said.

“We did, today,” Hansen replied. “We asked for a report today. . . . We were on speakerphone with you.”

“I don’t remember you asking for a report,” Wheeler responded.

“Did we? We did,” Hansen said. “You told us we had to get that from your office. It wasn’t available to us, and when we asked, you said, ‘We’re not ready to give that to you.’ We just want to know how to find out the money in our fund. That’s what we’re here for. I’m sorry.”

Council President Jay Sullivan proposed holding a special session to work out the Health Department’s budget issues.